Category Archives: Picture book

Zara and Hakeem Learn ‘Alhumdulillah’ by Shabeena Rehman illustrated by Kevin Payne

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Zara and Hakeem Learn ‘Alhumdulillah’ by Shabeena Rehman illustrated by Kevin Payne

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Board books from the UK! The glory of a well bound chunky book for toddlers to tote around, chew on and hopefully learn something from, with all the joy of international shipping.  I delayed buying these books for so long, because of it, and finally I gave in and just in the nick of time as I have started a weekly preschool story time, and this series is perfect for three and four year olds with limited attention spans and in need of repetition.

Zara and Hakeem, a brother and sister duo wake up to find their mother not feeling well, and instructions that they will have to help Daddy, Grandad and Grandma with the daily chores.  Then Mummy sneezes and says, Alhumdulillah.

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It seems the books  all have a pattern, something happens that sets the stage, then Hakeem and Zara pause and think hard about what to say, there is then an English translation/explanation about the meaning and then a universal, Muslims from all around the world say or do this, before the story resumes.

I don’t mind the break in the story, but the phrasing is a bit cumbersome and slightly off in this book.  Why are the kids thinking hard about what to say, when Mummy had just said it? If they were thinking hard about what she had said or where confused why she said it, I feel like it would make more sense. 

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I really like that the book shows that all Muslims say something the same, it is a good time to start to show this age bracket that they are connected to something bigger, without overwhelming them.  

The story continues with Hakeem helping daddy vacuum and Hakeem sneezing when some dust flies up.  Then Daddy and Zara mow the lawn when the grass makes Zara sneeze, everyone, Grandad, Grandma, all take a turn sneezing in different scenarios and everyone practicing to say Alhumdulillah.  

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By dinner, Mummy is feeling better, but Daddy has a sneeze attack and takes to laying down as he is not feeling well, and tomorrow the kids will have to help Mummy with the chores.  A humorous full circle, that even toddlers will laugh at.

The kids I read the book to, loved the loud Atchoos and the cute illustrations, a few of the older four year olds, wanted to know why Yar Hamukumallah was not also said.  They also wanted to know why when the dad sneezed four times they only said Alhumdulillah three times.  I read a variety of books about being sick and we talked about using tissues and sneezing into our elbows, washing our hands, and not coming to school when we are sick.  The book was great to explore how mom was sick and dad must have caught her cold.  But that sneezing from pepper and cat hair, didn’t mean you were sick.  The kids also saw that everyone in the house has to help out, sick or not, old or young, male or female, which is always a great lesson to reinforce, Alhumdulillah.

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The book is 18 pages of text.  The illustrations show the mom and grandma in hijab, they are bright and colorful and engaging.  Children will enjoy getting carried away with the sneezes and the Alhumdulillahs when read aloud and will enjoy looking back at the pictures and details independently afterward.  This is a great story to put on repeat and then watch your own toddler retell the story on their own.

Overall, well worth the shipping! I hope US bookstores will stock the series as our little ones need books that are funny, clever, and well done.

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Hind’s Hands: A Story about Autism by Umm Jawayriyah and Juwayriyah Ayed illustrated by Emma Apple

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Hind’s Hands: A Story about Autism by Umm Jawayriyah and Juwayriyah Ayed illustrated by Emma Apple

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This is an important book to show representation of an underrepresented group, not just those with autism, but also those that love them and live with them.  It is also important to spread awareness so that those that do not have first hand experience can show compassion and patience for the individual and those around them as well.

This 16 page book, only 9 pages of text, is written by a mother and daughter about another daughter.  It is told from the perspective of 9 year old Juwayriyah and how she sees and helps her younger sister Hind.

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I love that it makes it super clear that children with autism are created this way by Allah swt and made special just as all of us are unique and special. I also like that Juwayriyah has had to learn to slow down and say bismillah before often dealing with Hind.  It also shows that it is a work in progress and there are good days and bad days.  It isn’t smooth sailing, and it isn’t something that needs to be fixed, it is what it is and we must adapt.

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The book is wonderful, for what it does and what it represents, however, in terms of story, it is kind of dry.  It very much is a nine year old, optimistically talking about her sister and how rubbing her hands has proved a coping skills when she is overwhelmed, but you don’t get to know any of the characters.  You don’t feel a bond, or understand what life is like for Hind, or why sometimes she has outbursts or what her triggers are.  I don’t know that kids will even understand concretely what autims is other than that it means people with it learn and act and think differently, as no real examples are given.  

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There is a lot of text on the pages.  I think if you know someone with autism or have maybe seen a child having a melt down, children younger kids will enjoy the explanation and fact giving the book provides.  Otherwise I think 2nd to 4th graders will get the most out of this book as they start to notice different behaviors and other’s reactions to them.

P is for Palestine: A Palestine Alphabet Book by Golbarg Bashi illustrated by Golrokh Nafisi

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P is for Palestine: A Palestine Alphabet Book by Golbarg Bashi illustrated by Golrokh Nafisi

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I first heard about this book maybe a year ago when it was making waves for including such passages as “I is for Intifada, Intifada is Arabic for rising up for what is right, if you are a kid or a grownup!” The book was in limited supply however and hard to find.  Recently a 2nd edition came out and is widely available in major outlets. 

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The book follows the well established genre of giving each letter in the alphabet a page to depict in picture and words details about a given subject.  The form usually rhymes and appeals to little kids learning about something specific, and adults, who enjoy the topic at hand.  

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While this book is fabulous because it exists, and praiseworthy because it celebrates Palestine, Christmas and Eid and the birthplace of Jesus and Lebneh and Quds and olives and grape leaves and everything else that makes Palestine so close to one’s heart, the stanzas themselves are really forced and inconsistent in rhyme and meter.

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Granted, one doesn’t buy or even pick up a book like this for its literary merits, but the text is really a bit all over the place.  “Can we sing the ABC anywhere? With a woolly bear or in thin air? L is for Labneh is like yogurt.  I eat it for lunch, wearing my loafer! B is for Bethlehem, my birthplace with the best Baklawas, put it on a plate not in a vase! K is for Kuffiya, the best kind you can hang on a hook in Hebron souk! E is for Eid, it means Festival, like the Muslim Eid al-Fitr when we eat enticing eats, get excited over gifts, and enjoy seeing out extended families. J is for jesus, Jesus was born in my hometown (Bethlehem), not Jamestown!”

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I of course overlooked some of the awkwardness because the illustrations are lively and beautiful and the parts I thought needed explaining, I chalked up to me not being Palestine, nor having visited there.  

Many of the passages are touching and memorable and make the book so important.  M is for Miftah, Key of Return…Mama’s Mama, and my Jiddah’s Mama’s, for which I yearn! T is for Thob, a traditional dress wtih tatreez (embroidered pieces).  Takes time to make, with thousands of tiny threads, if you please!

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There is an Appendix in the back, giving a tad more information on the main idea mentioned for each letter.  There is also a Publisher’s note.  While there was some controversy that the book is anti Semitic or spreading propaganda, I think the book comes from a place of love and culture.  There is Christian and Muslim concepts and a character named David making grape leaves.  It does not mention Israel or Zionism blatantly, which I think shows that Palestine has its own culture and isn’t solely defined  by the crimes committed against them.  Interestingly, the author is from Iran.

 

Hassan and Aneesa Go to Masjid by Yasmeen Rahim illustrated by Omar Burgess

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Hassan and Aneesa Go to Masjid by Yasmeen Rahim illustrated by Omar Burgess

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I don’t often do two books in the same series, let alone three, but for as much as I enjoyed Hassan and Aneesa Love Ramadan and Hassan and Aneesa Celebrate Eid, I was a little disappointed in this story.  For starters, the title seems like it should read, Go to “the” Masjid, no? 

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The story starts off with the notion that this is Aneesa’a first time to the masjid, which seems bit off.  Presumably mom and Hassan have been before, but mom’s excitement, and Hassan’s questions through the book, and knowledge about masjid etiquette make you wonder if it is their first time too.  A little odd, if you’ve read their other books, but ok, I’ll accept it and move on.

The family starts by marveling at the exterior architecture.  They enter and separate, Hassan going with his dad and Aneesa going with her mom, as it points out that men and women pray in separate areas.  It is a good tidbit of information, but again, it just seems a bit off in the way it is phrased that Aneesa wouldn’t know this.  

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The tone of the book is almost negative, again, a striking contrast to the other stories.  Aneesa splashes and wastes water when making wudu, doesn’t she make wudu at home? And the mom gets her clothes ruined in the process making her upset.  The illustration shows her to look really mad!

I would think a little context about not wasting water or even sharing the hadith about not wasting even if making wudu in a river, would have been a great lesson to convey, but instead the pictures show a lot of water by others also being wasted, and only mom looking really frustrated.

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The two of them, put their shoes up and marvel at the dome and the soft carpet.  Aneesa then sees that the ladies prayer area over looks the mens and she begins screaming for Hassan.  Her mom corrects her and points out that “you should speak quietly in a masjid.  You might disturb someone if you shout.”

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Hassan turns and waves, and then rushes off to see a school friend.  But, first he is reproached for nearly walking in front of someone praying.  Again a good tidbit, but the phrasing of how the information is shared is rather negative, and these repetitive reprimands don’t make the book joyful.

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Hassan then learns about he mihrab and the mimbar before the athan is called and they all pray.  After salat they put some sadaqa in a box and the family heads home.

The illustrations are as sweet as ever, and the price very reasonable, but this book, compared to others in the series, is really wordy and there is a lot of text on EVERY one of the 20 pages.

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The framing of the book is awkward, thus making some of the behavior issues come off as negative, it is a minor thing that keeps the book from being great.  If the premise would have been maybe the kids talking about their favorite things about the masjid and reminding themselves to talk quiet and not waste water, the tone overall would have been lighter while still being really informative.

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If this is your first Hassan and Aneesa book, you might not be bothered, but if you find it a little off putting, try the other two.  The books says for ages 2 and up, but I think it would be better for 4 and up.  The younger kids you could tell them the story while showing them the pictures: what to expect at the mosque and how to behave, but there are too many words, and they will probably have a hard time staying focused.  Older four and five year olds, will enjoy seeing things they recognize and maybe learning some of the vocabulary for the architecture and being reminded on proper behavior at the masjid.

 

 

My Name is Fatima. Mine Too! by Fatima D. ElMekki illustrated by George Franco

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My Name is Fatima. Mine Too! by Fatima D. ElMekki illustrated by George Franco

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This book is interfaith, and learning your own roots, and asking questions about your heritage and faith all rolled in to a cute little package for children.  But despite it’s length, 28 pages, and cute little girls on the cover, the book is for more first grade/second grade and older children, rather than toddlers. 

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The message that we are more alike than different is a great message, even for the littlest of readers, but this book goes a little deeper, and the didactic approach will bore them a bit.  Older kids for sure 2nd and up will benefit from the exchanges between Fatima and Fatima and learning both valuable religious lessons about their namesakes as well as respect and friendship for those with different beliefs.

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Fatima is from the Democratic Republic of Congo and on her first day of school in a America she tries to remember her father’s advice, that meeting new people can be a challenge, but also an opportunity.  

At lunch a little girl asks to sit with her, excited to meet someone with her same name.  Fatima asks her why she wears a scarf, and listens to her explain it is because she is Muslim and the hijab is part of her religion.  

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At recess, Muslim Fatima tells non Muslim Fatima that she is named after Prophet Muhammad (saw)’s daughter and asks her who she is named after and if asks she is Muslim, too.  The other Fatima says that she is Catholic and that she doesn’t know why her parents named her Fatima, but that she will find out and let her know.

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That night Catholic Fatima learns that her mom had gone to Fatima, a city in Portugal, a famous city for all the miracles that have happened there and the apparition of Mary, the Mother of Jesus.  Fatima’s mom had gone there to pray for a baby and promised if she got pregnant that she would name the baby Fatima.

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The next day Catholic Fatima tells Muslim Fatima and also asks her if she has heard of Mary, the mother of Jesus.  Muslim Fatima says she has heard of her, but doesn’t know much and that she will ask her parents and let her know.

Muslim Fatima learns that Mary is one of the four virtuous women in Islam and that there is a chapter in the Quran named after her.  When she tells Catholic Fatima the next day at school, the girls marvel at how much they have in common.  They are BFFs despite their differences and beautiful ones at that.

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I love that the book is framed in opposites to show similarities.  I also love that it shows women in our respective faiths with similar values, similar names, and Mary’s role in both our traditions.  So often, when we are building bridges we discuss how Yusuf is Joseph and Musa is Moses, Yahya is John and we go through the old Prophets, this was a nice change in perspective.

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The illustrations are nothing to get excited by, but they do show smiling warm characters and family members.  They serve as a distraction from the text heavy pages that do nothing to grasp the reader with their plan font and majority white backgrounds.

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This book would work for Muslim children, Catholic children, really all children.  It talks about faith, but as the characters view it, not in a one is better or more right than another.  There is a second book in the series about Fatima inviting Fatima to an Iftar party  that I look forward to checking out soon.  I hope it is a little more rich in dialogue and character building instead of just a foil to disseminate the information between the two faiths, but even if it isn’t I still think the book has value and you should check it out.

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Layla’s Head Scarf by Miriam Cohen illustrated by Ronald Himler

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Layla’s Head Scarf by Miriam Cohen illustrated by Ronald Himler

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It isn’t often that I feel compelled to list all the things I like about a book and all the things I don’t like about a book and count them up to see what I think about a book.  Especially when the book is only 32 pages and an AR 3.2, but this book has me on the fence.

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It is Layla’s first day of school and presumably she is shy.  That’s what the other kids say at least.  The story follows her and the class throughout a typical first grade day, there is no climax or problem, there is just her and her classmates moving from circle time, to the library, to lunch, to recess, to art, and then her joining in at circle time the next day.  

Along the way the kids comment on her scarf, the librarian brings her a book about her country with pictures of sun and sand and veiled women.  The lunch lady looks at her rice and pea pie and says it looks yummy, the kids tell her to take off her hat to play easier, other characters stick up for her and try to correct other classmates that it isn’t a hat, it is a scarf. 

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During art time, she paints her family and the women all wear hijabs, a few kids say they look funny, a few others stick up for her, she ends up crying, but the kids come together to make her feel better and to articulate that in America people can wear what they want.  Some kids talk about family members wearing yarmulkas and others about braiding their hair, but there is no reason given for why Layla wears a hijab.

I don’t think any of the kids are intentionally mean or malicious, they are curious and not given any answers by Layla or any of the adults.  As a result when the book is over, the reader similarly has no answers.  Despite that though, I think readers will get the power of kindness and with some (a lot of) discussion, understand how we can help people feel comfortable and celebrate differences.

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Here is my pro and con list about the book:

PROS:

Book about hijab is included in a mainstream series meant for 1st graders (We Love First Grade!) 

Kindness comes through.

Kids stick up for each other.

Librarian found a book about Layla’s country and read it to the kids.

Kids include Layla while playing.

Illustrations are soft and realistic.

Diversity in the classroom.

CONS:

The book is about hijab, but nothing is learned about hijab.

Lots of stereotypes: girl doesn’t speak englishF from the desert, different food. 

Focus is on differences not similarities.

1st graders aren’t required to wear hijab.

Islam isn’t mentioned, but the Jewish kid mentions his faith.

Don’t learn what her lunch is called or what country she is from.

If she doesn’t speak English how did she label everyone in her picture?

Clearly she understands English, she is just shy, so why does she mess up the song at the end?

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Luckily the book was in the public library, so I don’t feel like I bought something that I am unhappy with.  I don’t know that I would recommend it to anyone, but it is always nice to see a muhajaba in a story, and there isn’t anything “wrong” with the book, it just lacks a lot of detail unfortunately.

The Blessede Bananas: A Muslim Fable by Tayyaba Syed illustrated by Melani Putri

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The Blessede Bananas: A Muslim Fable by Tayyaba Syed illustrated by Melani Putri

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 A fable with lessons of kindness centered around the Salawat, definitely is a great premise and for the most part I really enjoyed the book. 

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The 8.5 by 8.5 hardcover, 50 page book feels great in your hands and the illustrations are sweet and expressive.  The book is long, and is text heavy so I’d say the target audience is maybe 6 to 10 years old.   The font is incredibly small and irritating.   It should have been larger and more inviting to children in my opinion.  It doesn’t match the size, binding, and illustrations, and actually becomes a distraction if trying to read it in a group setting.  

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The story itself is smooth and intentional.  Rico, a blessed, yet ungrateful monkey, lives atop an ever abundant banana tree.  However, he attributes his blessings to his own hands and does not thank Allah swt.  He is mean and greedy toward people and animals alike.  Yet, something is missing in his life and he doesn’t know what. 

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When a little mouse, Chico, comes to him to ask for a banana and gets scolded at instead.  Chico makes dua for Rico asking Allah to guide the monkey to goodness.

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Tucana, a toucan, then stops in Rico’s banana tree after a long flight to be rebuffed by a foul tempered monkey who wants to be left alone.  When Tucana  leaves she forgives Rico for his rudeness and asks Allah to be merciful to him as well.

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Rico then makes signs to keep people and animals away.  Which works for a while, but along comes Simon, an elephant, one afternoon to ask the monkey to climb his tree and help direct him back to his herd.  Rico of course refuses, and Simon reminds him that they are brothers in Islam and to please help. He begins shouting at the elephant to leave, and as Simon is pacing back and forth, he slips on the banana peels, grabs the tree to support himself and shakes the tree back and forth in the process.

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Rico begins hollering for help and sure enough the animals he had turned away previously, return to help him.  They had forgiven him as they hope Allah will forgive us all.  To calm the monkey, chico shouts, “Salawaat’alan Nabi!” in Simon’s ear and when he recites “Allahuma sali’ala Sayyidina Muhammad,” peace and calmness is restored.

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With all the bananas on the floor, many mushy and trampled, Rico has to decide if he learned a lesson, and how he will put his new knowledge into action, or if he will resume his life of ungratefulness.

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The book ends with each animals favorite banana recipe, information about the author and illustrator and benefits of reciting Salawat and an ayat from the Quran.

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The story and how it weaves Islam into the lessons is beautifully done, my only hiccup is the constant refrain of Rico counting his bananas.  I realize it is a fable, and maybe with talking animals interacting with humans, reality is notably suspended.  But, it seems misplaced to me.  How do you constantly count a perishable item? Does Rico only eat a certain amount a day? How many new ones grow a day? What is the number that he is adamant to have at all times? So, many questions, that I didn’t get why he was counting them, why he was irritated when he lost count, and why this detail was in the story and a big part of the story none-the-less.  Like the font, its a minor detail, but a distracting one for me unfortunately.  Clearly, however, I’m in the minority as the book has won the Moonbeam Children’s Book Award and the Islamic Writer’s Alliance Creative Story, so give it a read, and let me know your thoughts, jazakhAllah kher.

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